On Memorial Day, two Mormon missionaries stopped by Rare and Out of Print Books and Art in Mesa, Arizona, to have their picture taken with a first edition of the Book of Mormon that was kept there. But when store owner Helen Schlie looked in the fireproof box where she had stored it three days earlier, the $100,000 text was gone.
Reports of the theft went viral. There are, after all, only 500 extant copies of the original Book of Mormon, so when one goes missing, it's news. Also, media types (and Americans in general) have a weird fascination with reading about odd happenings in the Mormon community.
Anyways, the Mesa police were stumped. There were few clues, no suspects and little hope of a break in the case.
Enter Reid Moon, a mild-mannered antiquarian book dealer who runs Moon's LDS Bookstore at the corner of Preston Road and Forest Lane. I found him after The Associated Press reported last night that the stolen text had been recovered with the help of "an unnamed dealer from the Dallas-Fort Worth area," and I Googled "rare Mormon book dealer Dallas."
That's apparently about what the thief did, too, because not long after the book was reported missing, Moon received a call from Washington, D.C., resident Jay Linford shopping an original copy of the Book of Mormon.
Reid bit, purchasing the title page for $7,500, a relative bargain considering first edition title pages go for $15,000 to $20,000 on the open market. But then Reid heard about the Arizona theft.
"Once the story broke, I saw an article on NPR that had this really detailed photograph of title page," Reid said. "I thought, 'That's the same title page.' So I called up the lady, Helen Schlie, who I knew and had actually seen her book before. I said, 'You know I think I have your title page.' She got me in touch with Mesa PD, and I sent them everything I have."
On Tuesday, two detectives from Mesa flew to Dallas to meet with Reid. After reviewing the evidence, they had him make a call to Linford. Within five minutes, authorities in Virginia were at his apartment with a search warrant. The book was there.
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Reid recalls one other instance of a first edition Book of Mormon being stolen, when thieves took one from the Daughters of Utah Pioneers several years ago, but it doesn't surprise him. Market forces and all. The supply of original LDS texts is small, having dwindled during the persecution-filled flight from New York to, eventually, Utah. Of the 500 remaining copies of the Book of Mormon, about a third are in libraries and museums, meaning only a small handful come on the market each year. The scarcity has driven the price of a copy from about $5,000 in 1990 to more along the lines of $150,000 or $200,000 today.
The thief obviously messed up in a number of ways. He didn't realize, for example, that each first edition title page is unique, or that Reid had handled 100 of them, or that Schlie's is the most photographed copy there is. Or that selling a stolen Book of Mormon is a terrible idea.
"Yeah, it wasn't too smart," Reid said. "I think also, the person who took it didn't realize within 48 hours it would be in every newspaper in the country."
The book will soon be returned to Schlie, and Linford will go on trial. As for Reid, he'll continue to quietly sell books until he is next called to battle the forces of evil.